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Yesterday was a significant day over here at Wanderland HQ — my third travel-and-blogaversary. This post is a toast to three years of wanderlust, three years of location independent employment, and three years of pouring my heart out here on Alex in Wanderland.

This year I learned more about myself, my travel style and my professional aspirations than I ever have before. The highs were high but the lows dipped down there as well. I fell in love and said goodbye to it, I made bad business decisions, I had a minor health scare, my family lost a dear friend, and I set my sights on a new continent and realized it just didn’t fill the Southeast Asia-sized hole in my heart. Yet from breaking it down in Coney Island for the Mermaid Parade to breaking the Ramadan fast with my Indonesian neighbors, from partying in the Nevada desert for Burning Man to burning my paper mache mask during the Ecuadorian New Year, from sailing across Lake Titicaca for Puno Day in Peru to watching floats sail through New Orleans for Mardi Gras, something was always there to grab me by the shoulders and remind me how lucky I am to be alive and exploring the world.

Is it cliché to say it’s been a whirlwind? Like last year and the one before, I’m going to celebrate with a mix of nostalgia and number crunching.

My Year in Travels

Great Escape Year ThreeWith the exception of a six week dip back to Indonesia, the entirety of my third year of travels was spent exploring the Americas.

1. USA

My third year of travel kicked off stateside, where I was doing my usual bop between Albany and New York City (with a Father’s Day jaunt to Philadelphia thrown in for good measure). I wrapped up my home visit in style with a whirlwind trip to Miami to party at the iHeart Radio concert, the first group press trip I ever accepted. There I met up with my South Beach-based cousin, some of my favorite fellow bloggers… and Ke$ha. Yes, Ke$ha.

Miami

Miami

2. Indonesia

After spending six weeks in Indonesia towards the end of my second year of travel, I knew I didn’t quite have the country out of my system yet. So I returned for another round, basically repeating my original itinerary exactly: Nusa Lembongan, Gili Trawangan, Bali. However, I spiced things up with a three day trek to Mount Rinjani, taking part in a shark release, and challenging myself with a big video project. The best part of Indonesia? Sleeping in one bed for a month straight, the only time I did so all year.

Indonesia Travel

Indonesia_010

3. USA

In August, I jetted back to the US for eight weeks, primarily to check a major item of my bucket list: attending Burning Man. It was, true to stereotype, a life-changing experience.

Burning Man

Burning Man

Yet this was a hectic period, to say the least — aside from those ten days in the desert, I also did bridesmaid duty in Pennsylvania, checked in on my mom’s new house in Martha’s Vineyard, showed a special guest around New York, returned to Albany for a not-so-fun surgery, and prepared for my next major adventure.

Albany

New York City

Pennsylvania

4. Peru

My arrival in Peru marked a major milestone for me: my first time in South America, and my first real attempt at long-term travel outside Southeast Asia. I spent more than ten weeks falling for this incredibly diverse country, from the deserts to the highlands to the lush jungles, and I couldn’t even begin to list all the amazing adventures I had. I also flexed a variety of travel styles, from traveling solo to traveling with my college best friend (who came down to hike the Inca Trail with me!) to eventually traveling as a couple when Anders arrived in Cusco.

Peru

Peru

Peru

5. Ecuador

Our three and a half weeks in Ecuador had some fabulous highlights — we rang in Christmas by the beach in Montañita and New Year’s Eve in the mountain town of Baños — yet it was an unsettling time. It was here that I came to terms with the fact that I had slowly slipped into a bit of a depression, and I needed a change. Rather than continue overland, we switched gears and flew into Central America.

Ecuador Travel

Ecuador Travel

Ecuador Travel

6. Panama

Panama brought me back to life. I savored my four and a half weeks in this tiny isthmus, and fantasized about snapping up a condo in Panama City and a beach house in Bocas del Toro and never leaving. Panama reminded me that tropical heat, white sand beaches, and being within reach of scuba tank are important ingredients to my ideal life. It also reignited my love for Central America — I’ve previously taken individual trips to Costa Rica, Belize, and Honduras — and I’m now itching to get back and explore more of the region soon.

Panama

Panama

Panama

7. Costa Rica

My week in Costa Rica was short and sweet — just enough time to check out the infamous beach town of Puerto Viejo, visit my high school student exchange hosts in San Jose, and catch a flight to New Orleans.

Costa Rica

8. USA

At the end of February, I returned to my homeland for a seriously long stateside stint — four and a half months without hopping an international border! Of course in that time (which will bring me into year four) I’ll take on a total of eight states, so I’m not exactly sitting still. My domestic drifting kicked off with ten days in Lousiana to visit my sister and celebrate Mardi Gras followed by two weeks in California to hit up Disneyland, attend a stylish Palm Springs wedding and visit a friend in the Bay Area.

Mardi Gras

Disneyland Travel

Palm Springs Wedding

After touching back down on the East Coast I made my way to New Jersey to speak at the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame meeting, to New York to pretend I’m still a Brooklynite, to Las Vegas for a girl’s weekend with my oldest friend, to Philadelphia to visit my dad, to Lake George to watch the first of my high school friends get hitched, and of course to my hometown of Albany to catch my breath a few times between. Phew! I then returned to Las Vegas again for an adrenaline-filled trip with Visit Nevada, and to Hawaii for the fabulous #seeMaui adventure.

Wedding

Las Vegas

Hawaii

Hawaii

But yes, for the third year in a row, I’m celebrating my travelversary from the familiar shores of the good old USA — this time, from my new home away from home in Martha’s Vineyard. In less than a month again I’ll be taking off again on another major journey, but for now I’m enjoying letting my passport cool off for a bit while I explore my own backyard.

Martha's Vineyard

My Year in Numbers

Countries Visited: 6

New Countries Visited: 3 (Down one from last year, but bringing my grand total to 23!)

States Visited: 9

Plane Rides Taken: 23 one way flights (I count a flight as a flight regardless of how many segments or layovers it has). Of those flights, four were basically free thanks to points, six were paid for by work, five were under $100 each, and the remaining eight inspired me to keep chasing the travel hacking dream.

Tents Slept In: 4, for a total of 14 nights.

Beds Slept In: 71. Of those, 27 were hostels, 19 were hotels, 6 were guesthouses, 2 were motels, 11 were crashing with family or friends, 3 were jungle lodges, one was a national park ranger station, one was a cruise ship cabin, and one was an apartment I rented.

Dives: 22. This is less than half the amount I managed the past two years. Bummer, but not bad considering I wasn’t working in the industry and I wasn’t traveling in dive heavy destinations. In fact, more than half of these dives were done in my one month in Panama. I’m hoping this number will be way higher next year.

Conferences Attended: 2, The New York Travel Fest in New York and Beneath The Sea in New Jersey.

Weddings Attended: 3, in Pennsylvania, Palm Springs, and Lake George.

Posts Written: 235. Up eight from last year.

Comments Responses Left: 3,038.

Dollars Spent: Roughly $25,000. That number doesn’t necessarily represent straight travel costs — it also includes several thousand dollars in business expenses like my taxes, the money I lost to a site design scam, and the money I’ve put aside for a real new site design. But this was the year that things really turned around for me, financially — I netted an overall profit instead of a loss for the first time!

My Year in Numbers

My Year in Blogging

This year was a major turning point for me in my pursuit of a location independent lifestyle — I turned a profit! For the past two years, overall I’ve spent more than I earned and made up the difference by dipping into my savings. This year, I almost doubled both my income and my bottom line in my bank accounts. Blogging profit — made up of sponsored content, affiliate sales, and brand partnerships — made up 61% of my earnings, with freelance writing, graphic design, and video work making up the final 39%. The recent months have been a tumultuous time for many bloggers, myself included, as Google algorithm updates have dried up my primary income source and forced me to seriously reevaluate how I make my money. But looking at how much I’ve accomplished in the past year gives me hope that I can survive the changing tides.

But hey, no one gets into blogging to get rich, right? (Well, at least they shouldn’t.) That’s just a means to keep moving. What really makes my heart beat faster are things like starting new series such as Earning Abroad and Becoming a Divemaster and seeing what wonderful feedback they get, being named a Viator Ambassador and working with brands I believe in, being invited on trips alongside my blogging mentors, and doubling my unique monthly visitors and monthly page views to 28,000 and 110,000, respectively. I’ve experimented with my writing and photography styles this year, trying out posts that are more factual or more philosophical than my usual travel tales, and your continued support and constructive feedback while I keep finding my voice has meant so much to me.

Above all, I am still incredibly humbled by the fact that anyone comes to spend part of their day here with me, and honored that so many take the time to reach out in response. One example of a gratifying moment I’ve had was meeting with a long time reader who had a ticket to Southeast Asia when my posts on the Banana Bungalow caught her eye and caused her to change her flight. A year later, she hasn’t left Maui. That really blew my mind in the most wonderful kind of way. I think back to the first travel blog I discovered and how that changed my life, and things get a little emotional up in here. I promise not to break into a rendition of kumbaya, guys, but I’m seriously moved by the community that has developed in Wanderland and the way things have come full circle. Other bloggers have actually commented to me that I have the best and most passionate readers on the interwebs, and I couldn’t agree more.

But at the same time — my honeymoon with self employment is over. With the excitement of turning a profit came the realities of paying taxes, making bad business decisions, and occasionally getting in seriously over my head. Yes, I look back on this year and I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness for all the literal and figurative mountains I climbed, the exotic places I watched the sun rise and set from, and all the opportunities that came my way. But I’m also overwhelmed with how overwhelmed I was, and how subtly but significantly my work/travel/life balance fell out of sync. I had to remind myself more than once that I didn’t strike out on my own in order to stay up all night weeping over my out of control to-do list, or snap at my loved ones because I can’t take the heat. Getting my priorities refocused and my balance back on track is one of my major goals moving forward.

Alex in Wanderland

Superlatives

Out of 235 posts, these were some of my favorite of the year.

Most Commented
The Road is LifeThe Pursuit of HappinessThe Cost of Burning ManLet’s Talk: How Much Drinking is Too Much Drinking?Let’s Talk: Can you Make Local Friends?How Citibank Screwed Me

Funniest
The Cheaplympics(Over)packing for PeruThe Colca Canyon: A Comedy of HangoversKids Say the Darndest Things

Most Creative Content (videos and other artistic experiments!)
What to do on Gili TrawanganMaking a Home in Martha’s VineyardPeru by PolaroidTucker’s TailsMy New Country Crush: Panama

Best Writing
The Crumbling Charms of IquitosCasco Viejo: Heart and Soul of Panama City

Musing-est
Thoughts on Coming BackTen Reflections on the Ten Principles of Burning ManEthics of Zoos and AquariumsOn Privacy

Most Useful
How I Scored $1,500 in Free HotelsHow Much Does a Month in Paradise My Peru Packing List UpdateInca Trail TipsWhere to Eat in MancoraWhy I Love Solid Shampoo

Alex in Wanderland

Goals for Year Four

Looking forward, I’m no longer paralyzed with fear that I won’t be able to sustain my travels financially. But I do have concerns that I won’t be able to sustain them emotionally, if I don’t make a few changes. And thus my goals are:

• To bring more spontaneity back into my travels.

• To work smarter, develop office hours, and find more effective ways to manage stress and expectations.

• To return to Southeast Asia.

• To slow down my travel pace in order to reflect the fact that I am not just a carefree backpacker, I am running a business from the road.

• To find a more significant way to give back to both the communities I visit on my travels and the community I’ve built here.

Putting together this post and the hours of reflection and introspection it has inspired has left me filled with hope and gratitude. I still hold dear the belief that helped me leap out into the world unknown on June 9th, 2011 — travel has the power to be transformative. Where will I be on June 9th, 2015 — not just physically, but in my heart and mind?

Know that wherever you are in the world, I’m toasting to you right now. Alex in Wanderland wouldn’t be what it is without you, whether you’re one of my most active commenters (love you guys!) or someone who checks in silently every once in a while (but please feel welcome to say hi!).

Travel Blogging Anniversary

Thank you.

3-devide-lines
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159 Comments...
  • Annie of TravelShus
    June 10 2014

    Congrats! Excited to see your next adventures. And hope to hang out again soon 🙂
    Annie of TravelShus recently posted..Photo Inspiration: Sri Lankan Elephants

  • Karlijn Travels
    June 10 2014

    Congratulations on your three year blogaversary! Loved reading this recap of an amazing year (even though there were some lows). I hugely enjoyed following you on all your adventures and I loved re-reading your stories about Iquitos and Casco Viejo. Those posts were among the best posts I read of any blogger this year. And I follow quite a few of them!
    Karlijn Travels recently posted..Foto-impressie: een weekje in zonovergoten New York

    • Alex
      June 10 2014

      That is a huge compliment Karlijn, thank you so much! I would like to focus more on doing quality writing like that. Your comment will be a nice encouragement 🙂

  • Ashley
    June 10 2014

    Love these yearly roundups! Can’t wait to read about your adventures in Hawaii, Europe, and back in Southeast Asia!
    Ashley recently posted..Hoi An Stole my Heart

    • Alex
      June 10 2014

      There is a lot to look forward to! I am really looking forward to the next six months… and the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing after that!

  • Jo
    June 10 2014

    Congratulations on your third year! I have been reading your blog since the beginning and you are such an inspiration and mentor to me! I am always amazed by how entertained and excited your articles make me. You have it down girl! xx
    Jo recently posted..A Travellers Wish List

    • Alex
      June 10 2014

      Wow Jo, that is so lovely (and humbling!) to read. I really appreciate your kind words and all your continued support!

  • Jessie Festa
    June 10 2014

    Congrats, Alex! I always look forward to your funny yet informative posts — and your beautiful photography. Can’t wait to see you next time you’re in NYC (or maybe somewhere else around the world)!
    Jessie Festa recently posted..Celebrating Life With The Kuna Indians Of Panama’s San Blas Islands

    • Alex
      June 10 2014

      You’re the best, Jessie, thank you! I’ll never forget out first TBEX 🙂 So bummed I won’t be making it this year, but let’s hang soon!

  • Today is your travel and blogaversary, but it’s also my readerversary – I started reading your blog exactly a year ago today! I’m so happy I stumbled upon it randomly one day, as your blog is now my favorite go-to read. You’re so talented in so many ways, and I hope you know how truly inspiring you are to others (especially people like me who are fellow bloggers!). Can’t wait to follow along on the next year of adventure, I’m sure it will be the best year for you yet! 🙂
    Sara @ Girl Meets World recently posted..Girl Meets World Meets Badass Redesign

    • Alex
      June 10 2014

      Aw, that is so fun to hear, Sara! Glad you stuck around, and thanks for coming along on my travels with me. I am getting all kinds of warm fuzzies from your comment <3

  • Lauren
    June 10 2014

    Oh Alex, I just wrote a long comment but it was lost somewhere on the interwebs. I won’t repeat everything I said but the gist was: You’re awesome, I’ve been reading for about forever and to think how much my life has changed since I started reading… = you’ve been inspiring people for a long time! Do what works for you, and know that your time is valuable (aka worth being paid for) and that it’s ok to morph from backpacker to business woman in a bikini 😉 also don’t forget that SE Asia-shaped hole in your heart!

    • Alex
      June 10 2014

      Nooo! I can’t stand when my comments get eaten. Argh! Well I truly appreciate the cliff notes version… you da best, girl! I LOVE this: “It’s ok to morph from backpacker to business woman in a bikini.” I seriously might use “business woman in a bikini” on my about page, if that’s okay 🙂

  • Mary
    June 10 2014

    Happy Blogaversary! It’s been fun to watch your voice and your travels grow and change. I’ve become addicted to the blog, anxiously awaiting new posts! I always appreciate your honesty about both the wonderful parts and the hardships of long-term travel and blogging. Hope Year 4 is your best yet!

    • Alex
      June 10 2014

      You are too sweet, Mary! Thank you for these kind words and warm wishes… I have a really good feeling about the upcoming year!

  • Laryssa
    June 10 2014

    Congrats, Alex! Can’t wait for what’s next in Wanderland. 🙂

    • Alex
      June 10 2014

      Thanks Laryssa! I need to do an update post about my upcoming adventure, it’s a big one!

  • Rachael C
    June 10 2014

    Congrats on 3 years!!! Thanks for being my absolute favourite blogger ever, I have enjoyed virtually coming along with you on your travels. Keep up the good work!

    • Alex
      June 10 2014

      You are so welcome Rachael — and thank you so much for hanging out with me here and leaving fabulous comments like this one 🙂 You’re the best!

  • Amanda
    June 10 2014

    Congrats, Alex! 🙂 So fun to have followed along for the past few years and to have finally met. PS tried Sugar Sunshine Bakery yesterday and it was the BOMB. Let me know next time you’re in town!

    • Alex
      June 10 2014

      So glad you share my love for SSB! I’m in the city next week — let’s do a date there!

  • Jamie
    June 10 2014

    Wonderful post, and congratulations! Year 3 is the year I became a fan. Love your videos on Tripfilms and love your blog! 🙂

    • Alex
      June 11 2014

      Thank you so much Jamie, I’ve loved becoming a part of the Tripfilms community!

  • Steve
    June 10 2014

    Congratulations on reaching three years and turning in a profit. Well deserved. Here’s to year 4.
    Steve recently posted..Leeds Art Gallery

    • Alex
      June 11 2014

      Thank you Steve, that means a lot! Here’s to year four indeed!

  • Rekha Devarapalli
    June 10 2014

    Hey Alex,

    Congratulations on your Blogaversary 🙂 Looking forward to several of them! May you grow with your blog and vice versa.

    Cheers,
    Rekha
    Rekha Devarapalli recently posted..Our Trip to Portland – Part II

    • Alex
      June 11 2014

      Thank you Rekha! We’ll see how long I can keep this dream running 🙂

  • Sherwin
    June 10 2014

    Geez! wtf! this made me cry. thank you for sharing your thoughts and summing up your year of travel! once again, fantastic post! Good luck with year 4!

    • Alex
      June 11 2014

      Aw, I hope they were happy tears 🙂 Thanks Sherwin.

  • Kristen Noelle
    June 10 2014

    Alex, everything about you and this blog never ceases to amaze me. You bring us along with you not only in your fun travels, but the difficult times too — battling deadlines, working with a chaotic schedule, pushing through health issues. I am so thankful that you continue to share your story! You’ve inspired me to finally get my blog started, to work hard at building my personal business so that I can work for myself entirely, and to travel to more places and do more things than I would have ever imagined.

    Forever grateful that my Thailand trip prep led me to you over a year ago, and I will continue to follow and watch you grow! Congratulations… and I love the roundup photos you chose for this post. Perfect.

    Kristen
    Kristen Noelle recently posted..Moving Journal VI | *Started…

    • Alex
      June 11 2014

      Thank you so much for this heartfelt comment, Kristen. I love it! Kudos to you for all your hard work as well. And thank you for the photo compliment… do you know how hard it is to narrow down a year’s worth into a single post?! Torture!

  • Maddy
    June 10 2014

    Corny but true – you have def inspired me to take a look at my “real life” and figure out how to put more travel into it so that I don’t waste my “real life” not living in the real world! Er, hopefully that made sense. Thanks for all the posting and sharing you do, it’s so fun to follow along!
    Maddy recently posted..Fork it Over | Linguine con Vongole

    • Alex
      June 11 2014

      That is humbling and lovely to hear, Maddy. Thank you so much! I always look forward to your comments. xo

  • Caity
    June 10 2014

    Wowza! What a talented and gifted young woman you are Alex! It’s funny (in a good way!) to think that every few days I anxiously and excitedly ‘check in’ on someone I’ve never met! It was a wonderful day when I found Wanderland! Thank you so much, for all that you have done for me without even realising! without doubt, you are my favourite person that I don’t know! Heehee!

    • Alex
      June 11 2014

      Hah, Caity, I understand that better than anyone… my readers and regular commenters definitely feel like dear friends to me. Thanks for continuing to check in 🙂

  • Yasemin
    June 10 2014

    Congratulations on 3 years! I feel bad for not commenting enough but I honestly look forward to every new post and check everyday for the next one! You are an inspiration and I hope you feel proud of yourself. I love that I feel, as I am sure everyone else does, that I know you as your personality comes across in every posts – and I hope you find the balance between work and everything else, health should always come first x